3 Reasons to Read to Your Foster Child Every Single Day

I had a friend once describe running as one of the most efficient means of exercise there is. He pointed out that it requires no equipment (except a good pair of running shoes), no commute to the gym, burns a lot of calories, gets you a dose of vitamin D, can be done anytime, and gives you a great cardio workout. Like me, my friend does not particularly enjoy running, but he does enjoy being physically fit. So running is part of his regular routine.

What running is to physical fitness, reading is to child-rearing. Reading is one of the most efficient things we can do every day to contribute to our relationship with our children and help them flourish. This is true for every child, but it is especially important for those of us caring for children in foster care. Here’s why:

Reading aloud to a child contributes significantly to their language development, which is fundamental to most other areas of cognitive growth and mental health in a child. This is important for all children, but it is especially vital for children who have experienced early childhood neglect and a delay in language development. This study from the National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine notes that, “Neglect is the type of maltreatment most strongly associated with delays in expressive, receptive, and overall language development.” The study also finds that, “Children who are unable to communicate effectively may not have the necessary skills to negotiate or resolve conflict and may have difficulties understanding and relating to others. Psychiatric disorders such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, anxiety, depression, conduct disorder, and oppositional defiant disorder are highly associated with language impairment, and a combination of these problems may lead to poor social functioning as these individuals enter adulthood.”

According to Rhode Island’s Reach Out and Read, “Reading aloud is widely recognized as the single most important activity leading to language development. Among other things, reading aloud builds word-sound awareness in children, a potent predictor of reading success.” This is good news for those of us who parent children who experienced neglect early on. While they may have gotten a late start, reading aloud to them every day can have a repairing effect, essentially making up for lost language learning time.

Reading aloud fosters a child’s sense of imagination. From birth to about two years of age, children are learning about the world around them primarily through their senses: they want to touch and taste everything they can get their hands on (if you have ever worn glasses while holding a one-year-old, you know just what I mean!) But from age two to age seven or so, a child’s imagination is starting to grow. They begin to understand things symbolically and metaphorically, and listening to stories encourages this development (as does imaginative play).

Children who have experienced early childhood neglect often experience a stunted imagination. However, reading aloud daily can, once again, repair that deficit and fuel their imaginative brain function. Asking a child questions that help them reflect on the stories they are hearing actually helps to exercise their imagination and carve important neuropathways in their brains.

Reading aloud provides a great means of connection between a child and a caregiver. It is no surprise that children who have experienced broken attachments, meaning they have been separated from a primary caregiver (i.e. a parent), struggle to bond and attach with others. However, attachment is a vital part of emotional and mental development. Children learn how to have relationships through their attachments, they experience a sense of safety and security through attachment, and they learn emotional regulation through modeling after their caregivers. When those attachments are broken, the damage can be catastrophic, with life-long affects.

While there is no way to totally repair the devastation of attachment disruptions in children, reading to a new foster child is a simple and non-threatening way to bond with them. Sitting together on a couch and reading aloud to your foster child is a natural way to connect physically, mentally, and emotionally. Laughing together at something silly (such as Mo Willems’s Elephant and Piggie stories or any number of other good books for children) releases endorphins, which are considered the body’s natural “feel-good” chemicals. Endorphins promote an overall sense of well-being and can even temporarily relieve pain, making laughter truly good medicine.

Books can also provide a non-threatening way to address hard topics that are common for children in foster care. Books like The Night Dad Went to Jail, Tommy’s 2 Mommies, and Stellaluna allow children to talk about hard things they have experienced without talking about themselves. I have watched children in my care open up about the characters in these stories, when they would never offer to talk about their own experiences directly.

Reading aloud daily (or nightly at bedtime) also provides a wonderful opportunity for a child to exercise some personal autonomy. By inviting your child to choose a book (or two or three) each night, they get to experience a hit of power, which contributes tremendously to a child’s sense of personal agency and satisfaction.

Simply put, reading aloud to your foster child every day is one of the very best things you can do for them. If a child is with you for six months, and you read to them every day of their placement, that’s 168 opportunities to contribute to their language skills! If a child is with you for a year, and you read one book to them every day, that’s 365 chances to foster their imagination! And if a child comes to you at age seven and you read to them every night until they’re thirteen, that’s over two thousand excuses to sit and snuggle and bond with your child. And for the record, there is no reason to stop reading aloud to your children when they become teens. Reading aloud is something I love to do with my eldest daughter, who came to us when she was fifteen!

For more information and inspiration on reading aloud with your kids, including book recommendations for kids of all ages, check out the wonderful resources at Read Aloud Revival. And share your favorite books to read with your kids below!

Project Search and Reunion [Podcast Episode 20]

Anyone who is involved with the world of adoption knows that adoption has lifelong implications for everyone involved: birth parents, adoptive parents, and, of course, the people who are adopted from one family into another.

Until very recently, adoption was almost always shrouded in secrecy. The link between the birth parent and the adopted person was held in file boxes on the shelves of adoption agencies, paperwork that connected the adopted child to the parent or parents they came from. In order to access that information, adoptees and birth parents had to pay money. Had to know where to start. And had to rely on the cooperation of whomever received their request for information. 

Nowadays, we recognize the importance of transparency in adoption and the benefits of a child knowing about their birth family and even having relationships with them. Most adoptions today are open, with at least some sort of contact between birth and adoptive families, but that leaves thousands of adopted adults with gaping holes in their life stories. In response to this, in 2018, Amara, a foster care and adoption agency in Seattle,  launched Project Search and Reunion, a ground-breaking initiative that aims to audit 3,100 of their own adoption files between the years of 1950 and 2000 to ensure that adoptees and birth families receive the information and support they requested, especially in regard to searching.  

In March, just before the world shut down and we all went into quarantine, I had a chance to hear a presentation about this important work, and in the latest episode of A Fostered Life Podcast, I’m speaking with Rena Konomis, a Washington state court appointed Confidential Intermediary and Project Director of Project and Search and Reunion. Listen as Rena explains the goal of the project and why it matters for everyone involved with the world of adoption.

I hope you enjoy our conversation as much as I did! 

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Featured Photo by EVG photos

Blog Photo by Element5 Digital

3 Things to Bring to the E.R.

During the last weekend in February, I had to bring my foster son to the emergency room. (He’s OK now, and he was probably OK then, but it was a better-safe-than-sorry situation.) My husband was out of town for the weekend at a cabin in the woods with a bunch of his best friends—it was his (and his twin brother’s) 50th birthday, and I was not about to interrupt it with a phone call to come home. So I called for reinforcements (a friend who let me drop my other kids at her house) and headed to Children’s Hospital.

In all of the hullabaloo, I was not thinking clearly, and I neglected to bring three key items that are crucial for any foster parent who is bringing her foster child to the hospital.

Don’t make the same mistakes I did! Here are my three tips to remember if you have to bring a foster child to the E.R.

BRING YOUR PLACEMENT AGREEMENT

You guys. I showed up at the E.R. with my foster son and no paperwork proving I had the right to consent to his medical treatment. What a rookie mistake!! If you have to bring a foster child to the hospital, for goodness sake, bring your placement agreement.

Fortunately—pro tip—I had scanned the agreement and saved it to my Google Drive, so I was ultimately able to produce proof that I was, in fact, authorized to consent to his treatment. But it took nearly two hours for me to access my Google Drive because my phone battery was dead when we got to the hospital.

Which brings me to point number two…

BRING A PHONE CHARGER.

For the love of all that is holy, keep a charger in your purse. My word.

I spent six hours in the emergency room that day, and most of that time, my phone sat on the communal charger at the nurses’ station on the other end of the floor from the room we were parked in. I needed to be in touch with the friends who were watching our other kids (did I mention my husband is out of town?!) and my teenager, who was out for the day and had no idea what was going on. I also kept receiving voicemail from my foster son’s previous foster parent, who had received a call from the hospital when I brought him in, because she was listed as his caregiver. Since I could not produce proof that I was his foster parent, they called her (naturally). She was worried, and we kept playing phone tag because my phone was off/charging when she called and then I missed her when I called back.

So I sat there watching mindlessly numbing cartoons with my child while my phone charged so I could turn it on, check in with everyone, and then turn it back off to charge some more.

Which brings me to point number three…

BRING SOMETHING TO DO.

I had nothing in my bag for my son or for me to do. No magazines, no books, no nothing.

There was a television in the room, which had a few cartoons to choose from, so my son was happy for a while. But when the remote control was not working properly, and he could not find his way back to the show he had wanted to watch, he grew frustrated. Then he grew bored and started acting out.

I really wished I had brought some crayons, paper, books, etc. for him—not to mention something for me to read! Without my phone, it was just me and my child in a tiny exam room waiting for an indeterminate amount of time. (We were there for a psychiatric evaluation, not a physical injury, so once he was calm, we were not considered high priority. Also, because our visit was a result of an incident that had taken place earlier at home, neither of us was in a great place emotionally. We were both on edge, which made sitting in a small room together all day hard.)

If you are a foster parent, you will likely experience an unexpected trip to the E.R. or urgent care at some point in your journey. Whether it’s a sprained ankle from falling on the playground, a bump on the head while a toddler learns to walk, an episode of violent rage, or suicidal ideations, it’s always important to be on the safe side and have a doctor weigh in. When that time comes, remember this list and don’t be caught off guard and unprepared! Remember to grab the placement agreement, your phone charger, and a good book or two.

You’ll thank me later!

Photo via Canva